Lobby reform losing teeth by the day

Scott Tong May 3, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: You can add lobbying to the list of things Congress can’t quite fix. The effort to reform the influence industry is losing teeth by the day. A month ago the Senate passed a bill that outside reform groups consider weak. They’re even more disappointed by today’s effort in the House. Marketplace’s Scott Tong has this look at what’s in the bill. And what’s not.

SCOTT TONG: Republican Congressman David Dreier designed the bill. He called it “bold” and “strong”— the result of a thorough process.

REP. DAVID DREIER: Anyone, . . . Democrat, Republican alike. Outside groups, academics. Anyone who wanted to offer any suggestion has had that opportunity.

Thing is, many suggestions have quietly vanished. Democrat Chris Van Hollen wanted lobbyists to disclose when they asked clients to write campaign checks. Van Hollen says it passed the Judiciary committee easily.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: But a funny thing happened on the way to the Rules Committee, it disappeared from the bill.

It was a bad idea anyway, says Paul Miller of the American League of Lobbyists. To him, there’s nothing wrong with delivering checks to allies.

PAUL MILLER: We help them raise money. We give campaign contributions ourselves. It’s a First Amendment right to free speech. I don’t see there’s a problem with it.

It IS a problem if the money buys a legislative favor. That’s a big piece of the Jack Abramoff investigation, which triggered all the ethics talk in the first place.

MELANIE SLOAN: The House bill doesn’t do anything about any of the Abramoff situation.

Melanie Sloane runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She says the bill does not ban lobbyist gifts, like the sports tickets Abramoff gave out. And it lets lawmakers to continue to police themselves.

SLOAN: Chairmen and ranking members have said flat out that they don’t even plan to look into anything related to the Abramoff scandal. So if you’re not going to enforce your old rules, what’s the point of having any new rules?

One new rule would ban lawmakers from taking privately paid trips — temporarily.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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